IN THE NEWS

 

Orange estimate down, potato estimate up

Andy Nelson 01/12/2012 3:04:10 PM

 

The 2011-12 U.S. orange crop will be smaller than forecast and the potato crop slightly larger, according to two new U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.

This season’s sweet potato crop, meanwhile, is 13% larger than last season’s.

About 8.98 million tons of oranges are expected to be produced in 2011-12, 2% lower than the previous forecast but still 1% higher than last season, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Jan. 12 monthly Crop Production report.

Florida is expected to produce about 147 million boxes of oranges, up from 140 million boxes last season. California should produce about 58 million boxes, down from 62 million.

Fall 2011 potato production is now estimated at about 389 million cwt., up from an earlier estimate of 385 million cwt. and up 6% from 2010-11, according to NASS’s Crop Production: 2011 Summary, also released Jan. 12. Idaho’s production is expected to rise from 113 million cwt. in 2010-11 to 127 million cwt. in 2011-12.

About 939,200 acres of potatoes were harvested nationwide last fall, up 7% from last season.

About 27 million cwt. of sweet potatoes are expected to be produced in 2011-12, 13% more than last season, according to the NASS annual summary. Growers harvested about 130,300 acres last fall, 11% more than the year before.

 

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'Local' role expanding in foodservice

Tom Burfield 12/16/2011 10:39:13 AM

 

Local produce continues to be a popular selling point for some restaurants, grower-shippers say. But the concept is not without its caveats.

 

"It's a great way to promote product," said Vince Choate, director of marketing for Hollandia Produce LLC, Carpinteria, Calif.

 

A couple of years ago, locally grown produce characterized mostly "boutique or upscale artisan-type establishments," he said, but today, "it's becoming more commonplace everywhere you go."

 

At least one restaurant in town promotes Carpinteria produce, he said, and many eateries and even hotels in nearby Santa Barbara talk about local produce.

 

Restaurants continue to tap into locally sourced foods where it makes sense on their menus, said Courtney Romano of Kirkland, Wash.,-based Romano & Associates LLC, a consulting firm specializing in food marketing.

 

"This will definitely continue," she said. "Diners want to know where their food comes from."

 

As popular as the idea of locally grown produce is, the concept is hard to define, said Mike O'Leary, vice president of fresh-cut for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

 

"Everyone has a different definition of what is local," he said.

 

"It could be something coming from two hours away or 12 hours away, depending on how you run your trucks," he said.

 

Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill defines local produce as that which has been grown within 350 miles of where it will be served.

 

The company has exceeded its goal this year to use 10 million pounds of produce from local farms when it is seasonally available, said Chris Arnold, communications director.

 

"Our use of locally grown produce is part of our larger commitment to serving food made with ingredients from more sustainable sources," he said.

 

Chipotle Grill may be the only national restaurant company with significant commitments to local and organically grown produce, he said.

 

But local doesn't seem to be driving business for customers of Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif.

 

"(Customers') main concern is getting the best-quality fruit for the price," said John Chamberlain, director of marketing.

 

The company's customers seem more concerned about sustainably grown product than locally grown product, he said.

 

Everyone supports local produce to the extent that they can, said Jay Iverson, partner and vice president of sales and marketing for GreenGate Fresh LLP, Salinas, Calif., which caters to the foodservice industry. And he's all for that.

 

"We appreciate that limiting food miles when possible is great thinking," he said, "but not always realistic."

 

For example, he said that even in California, local produce sometimes is not available for several months at a time.

 

A number of grower-shippers expressed concern about the safety of local produce and the effect it can have on the industry.

 

"This fall, with the cantaloupe outbreak and recalls, people are starting to take a hard look at local," O'Leary said.

 

Boskovich Farms is proud of its strict food safety standards, he said.

 

"We have to be careful that local growers operate under the same standards as primary suppliers," he said.

 

"Local might be a good thing, but it also can have its weaknesses."

 

Choate echoed that sentiment, expressing concern that some small, local growers may not embrace food safety regulations like major grower-shippers do.

 

"We need to make sure that all the practices are there" for all growers, he said.

 

The Produce Marketing Association is working to see that happen, he said.

 

"I'm sure they'll get there."

 

If a local grower has a food safety issue, the repercussions spread through the whole industry, Olsen said.

 

A hole in the Global Food Safety Initiative is that it exempts small operations, he said.

 

"There's got to be a standard for everyone, even if you only have an acre or two."

 

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Florida tomato season opens with late start, smaller volumes

Doug Ohlemeier 12/02/2011

 

PALMETTO, Fla. — After enduring later-than-normal starts, buyers should expect smaller Florida tomato volume.

 

Because of heavy rains and excessive heat that struck during the early parts of the central Florida deal in September and October, season volume is running 7-10 days later than usual.

 

Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for Lipman, Immokalee, said buyers should expect to see regular volume in early December.

 

"Things are getting better," he said in mid-November.

 

"The quality and volume will be normalized once we hit the first week of December. Our packouts are decent. We don't have a lot of size yet. I would say we have a more even distribution of sizes now. We're not running heavy to the extra large at this point."

 

Some Immokalee growers began spot pickings in early November before south Florida production typically starts in mid- to late November, Odell said.

 

He said Florida's true window, when central and south Florida production ship promotable volume, typically begins around Thanksgiving.

 

Odell said demand began to build after central California finished its mature-greens harvesting, and though Mexico started moving some volume of romas and hothouse tomatoes across the border, west Mexico hadn't started yet in mid-November, and Sinaloa production is scheduled to start in late December.

 

Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, which has operations in Ruskin, said the season opened with disappointing production.

 

He said yields suffered a 30% decline.

 

"Yields and packouts have been below-normal," he said in late November.

 

"The heavy rains and heat made for bad settings. The tomatoes picked this week and what will be picked next week will continually get better. Quality and sizings should progress going forward into December."

 

DiMare said buyers should expect volume from Palmetto-Ruskin in early December.

 

He said business finally began increasing after California finished and Canada's greenhouse industry began winding down.

 

In mid-November, DiMare characterized opening season mature-green tomato prices as near typical.

 

In late November, however, prices increased as the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Nov. 16 reported 25-pound cartons of loose mature-greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better selling for $14.95 for 5x6s, 6x6s and 6x7s, up from the $13.95 for 5x6s, $12.95 for 6x6s and $11.95 for 6x7s it reported a week earlier.

 

East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, ended its Virginia harvests in late October and began Florida production in early November, about two weeks later than normal, said Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations.

 

Madonia said tomato plants look healthy, and, despite lower overall yield, said buyers should expect high quality fruit.

 

"At this point, things look to be a normal deal," he said in early November.

 

"It has been a very hard and expensive crop to grow, but it looks like a good crop. The quality is even better than last year."

 

Wimauma-based Red Diamond Farms, a division of Tomato Thyme Corp., began entering full production in late November.

 

Michael Lacey, director of sales and marketing, said the grower-shipper expects to ship major volume during the first weeks of December.

 

"The early season rains affected fruit size and did have an overall effect on the field, but we are recovering very quickly," Lacey said in late November.

 

"The second set is there and it's producing. The quality is excellent. We are getting really great brix levels from the grapes, the heirlooms and the Tasti-Lees. The flavor profile is incredible."

 

Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., said he looks for a typical season.

 

"We won't experience bumper yields, but should have decent crops," he said in early November.

 

"We have been able to grade our fruit and we have decent quality, so we're pleased with that."

 

Because of more variable weather and growing conditions, Spencer said fall harvesting normally produces lower yields than the state's spring crops.

 

West Coast started harvesting mature-greens Oct. 20, about 10 days later than usual. It began its romas Oct. 24.

 

Spencer said he expects quality to improve each week as the harvest is further distanced from the September and October rains.

 

J.M. Procacci, chief operating officer of Plant City-based Ag-Mart Produce Inc., which does business as Santa Sweets Inc., and chief operating officer of Procacci Bros. Sales Inc., Philadelphia, said growers endured an unfavorable growing season.

 

"This past year has probably been the worst year we have had growing anything anywhere," he said.

 

Procacci said north Florida suffered through drought and cold temperatures while central and south Florida sustained too much rain.

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